‘I can only afford heating for two hours a day – soon I won’t even be able to do that’



In Amanda Button’s home, the heating only goes on for one to two hours on very cold days. After yesterday’s announcement that 22 million households will face record increases to energy bills, she will ration it further.

“I’ve already been told my gas is going up from £40 to £60 a month,” she says.

“There’s no extra money so I will just have to put the heating on every two to three days now. I already wear my coat, scarf and gloves inside for some of the day.”

Amanda is disabled following a car accident in 2007, and she was lucky to survive. The cold causes her pain. “I even know when the cold is coming,” she says. But she has already cut back on everything else.

“Food is already more expensive so it’s hard to save money there, and I recently lost the £20 uplifted to Universal Credit. I haven’t had takeaways or holidays for years.”

Liza Bradbury bought her teenage sons fleece bedding and pajamas as their Christmas presents

Liza Bradbury, 40, a healthcare rehabilitation worker from Grimsby, Lincs, bought her teenage sons fleece bedding and pajamas as their Christmas presents so she could turn her heating down.

“I use a community shop for low-price food, and I’ve been trying to change my job because my journey to Hull costs money each day,” she says.

In Sheffield, shop worker Claire Cunningham, 37, lives with her disabled dad and her four children.

“Sometimes it feels like I am choosing to keep the house warm, keep the lights on, and make fresh, healthy food for my children,” she says.

“I make sure I get the food shopping first, and I’m left with very little money at the end. It is so scary. I am drained, I’m having sleepless nights, we don’t do anything as a family any more. The electricity is my biggest worry.”

After two years considering the economic and emotional pain of Covid, households were hit with a 54% increase yesterday to the energy price cap.

The same day as Shell – cashing in on those rocketing markets – posted 2021 profits of £14.2billion, making the moral and economic case for Labour’s proposed windfall tax.

Claire Cunningham lives with her disabled dad and her four children

Coming at the exact same moment as an interest rate rise, a VAT increase and soaring food prices, this is a Molotov cocktail of price hikes for ordinary families.

For those on prepayment meters like Amanda, the price cap will rise from £1,309 to £2,017 – an increase of £708.

Millions more will pay an extra £693 a year on their energy bills since April, Ofgem has said. In low-income households, fuel already makes up far more of the total bills. Everything except essentials is already wall back to the bare minimum.

Tracey Herrington, a project manager at Thrive Teesside, which supports low-income communities to bring about change, puts it simply.

“There’s nothing left to give,” she says.

“People in our community are already choosing between heating and eating. They are already sitting in blankets at home. There’s a fuel crisis, food prices crisis, National Insurance crisis.

“How many crises can you have? People can’t even afford the bus fare to get to the foodbank or somewhere warm that can help them. It’s desperation.


Tracey Herrington said there will be an upsurge in mental health problems
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Handout)

“These are scary times. We’re going to see an upsurge in mental health problems as people get even more isolated. We’ll see social anxiety, and yes, malnutrition.”

She sounds tired and frustrated. “We knew this was coming,” she says. “We knew.”

Launching a support package worth £350 per person, the Chancellor was keen to talk about the global causes of the cost of living crisis yesterday – last year’s cold winter, the lack of wind.

But these “leaves on the line” excuses belie a series of heartless decisions by the Government.

It was Rishi Sunak who chose to end the uplift to Universal Credit. It was Sunak who will increase VAT. It was his government that has failed to regulate the energy market or to hold gas in reserve.

Rishi Sunak chose to end the uplift to Universal Credit
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PA)

It was his government who allowed Shell’s £14.2billion profits slide without a windfall tax, while the French government yesterday announced it would tax energy €8.4billion to cover the increase in price rises.

It’s the Tories who have written off £9billion in PPE contracts and £4.3billion in Covid loan fraud that could have canceled the VAT hike.

The cost of living crisis has been thundering down the track while the Government has been watched in Partygate. The Prime Minister has been fiddling with the rules while Rome burns.

As Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told Sunak yesterday in the Commons: “The Conservatives aren’t solving the cost of living crisis because the Conservative Party are the cost of living crisis.”

Rachel Reeves said the Conservative Party are the cost of living crisis
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BBC Parliament)

National Energy Action CEO Adam Scorer says the Government failed their “exam question” – “How to protect the most vulnerable from a devastating rise in the cost of energy”.

Amanda Button was as unimpressed as Reeves by Sunak’s rescue plan of £200 to be clawed back over five years. “What the Chancellor’s offering is, I’m sorry, it’s a drop in the ocean,” she says. “As for Boris Johnson, don’t even start me on him.”

As we approach the second anniversary of the coronavirus lockdown, communities have been holding on, often by their fingernails, for two years. Only to find that economically, there was worse to eat.

Yesterday Citizens Advice issued a “red alert” on rising costs. That was before the Bank of England announced a second back-to-back rise in interest rates in 18 months.

One warned that it could lead to the biggest fall in living standards since comparable records began three decades ago.

Michael Drinan said the system is broken

Disabled foodbank volunteer Michael Drinan, 64, from London, puts it this way. “The system is broken, and the Government doesn’t have a clue,” he says. “The price hikes will affect the lowest working people, not the Sunaks of the world.”

With prices outstripping wage rises and a National Insurance raid to come in April, families are now facing a squeeze greater than during the financial crisis, while the oil giants get richer, and the Tories look increasingly out of touch.

As Michael adds dryly: “The only time they see a fridge empty is when they buy a new one.”

For help contact Christians Against Poverty for free advice on 0800 328 0006 or at capuk.org

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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